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Children with Heart Conditions to Experience Summer Fun at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC’s Annual Heart Camp

PITTSBURGH, June 11 – The Dr. Bill Neches Heart Camp for Kids offers children with heart disease the opportunity to trade in doctor’s appointments for warm weather and pool time. The camp, sponsored by the Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, gives kids a test-free, pain-free vacation and the chance to interact with nurses and doctors in a non-medical setting.

More than 130 children from across the region will travel to western Pennsylvania this week to enjoy traditional camp activities such as fishing and crafts while sharing with each other the challenges of living with heart conditions. Heart Camp will be held from June 12 to 16 at Camp Kon-O-Kwee in Fombell, Pa., and will provide campers between the ages of 8 and 16 the chance to meet, interact and relate to other children who have similar medical conditions.

The camp, established in 1991 by Children’s Hospital, is the first in the nation dedicated solely to children with heart disease. It is named in honor of founding Children’s cardiologist William Neches, M.D., who retired in 2005 after 33 years at Children’s Hospital.
Heart disease affects approximately 1 percent of all children born in the United States, yet very few who have heart disease are aware of others with the same problems. The camp helps children and adolescents with heart disease feel less isolated by introducing them to other children like themselves.

Campers are encouraged to make new friends, share their experiences, and participate in camp activities to the best of their abilities, without fear of being judged by others. Physicians, nurses and other members of the Children's Hospital staff, as well as the counselors and camp directors, supervise activities throughout the four-day outing. Campers also have the opportunity to discuss issues and concerns related to their disease with their doctors, nurses and peers.

“Heart Camp gives children the opportunity to enjoy many activities such as swimming and hiking, but also gives them time to interact with their doctors and nurses outside of the medical setting, said camp co-director Linda Russo, M.D., a cardiologist at the Heart Institute at Children’s. “The close friendships the campers also develop are helpful to their long-term healing and progress.”
Campers also have role models in their Heart Camp counselors and junior counselors, all of whom have heart conditions and were campers themselves at one time. They can speak from experience about their past hospitalizations, tests, surgeries and illnesses, and are proof that children with heart disease can become normal, functioning adults.

“Watching the campers spend time and interact with their counselors who have been in the same medical situation as they and are now leading normal lives, gives these kids hope that they can have bright, active futures,” said camp co-director Susan Miller, M.D.
Some new additions to camp this year will include the “Dancing with the SCARS” dance contest, where mini Mirror Ball trophies will be given to all participants. Campers also will get the chance to experience the “Splash Pad,” which resembles a mini water park.
Heart Camp is supported through the generosity of organizations such as the American Heart Association, as well as many other private and corporate donors. The camp is a program of the Heart Institute at Children’s. The Heart Institute cares for infants, children and young adults with all types of heart disease and for adults with congenital heart disease, including many who have undergone heart transplants. For more information about the Heart Institute or Heart Camp, please visit www.chp.edu/heart.

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